Independence Days

Getting The Word Out

Of course, taking on the care of the frail elderly--let alone those with special needs like Alzheimer's patients--isn't a casual thing. Entrepreneurs entering this field need more than raw talent; they also need compassion and a commitment to service that goes beyond the bottom line. "This is not a business for people who are solely focused on making money,' says Whitney Redding of ALFA. "It's a conscientious bunch creating this industry.'

The fact that conscientious operators succeed isn't a coincidence, either. Residents and their families want sincerity. And referral sources--such as hospitals, churches, social service agencies and clients themselves--are equally discerning. Since word-of-mouth is the primary source of new business, operators who can't win the enthusiasm of their clients and communities often find marketing tough.

Because standards are high and competition stiff, breaking into this business on a budget takes some maneuvering. Building a new, state-of-the-art facility for, say, 90 residents will set you back millions of dollars. Converting a smaller existing facility is less expensive, assuming that your market will support such a location.

Not every market will. If your community already sports several shiny new facilities, make sure your venture can differentiate itself successfully and that the available population is large enough to sustain what you're proposing.

The assisted living business is demanding, but it's also in great demand. Entrepreneurs who find their way into the industry successfully can look forward to explosive growth in a dynamic and challenging field.

For the truly committed, there are emotional rewards as well. Even after 16 years in the business, Klaassen says, "I love the openings. Families are moving in with their loved ones; there's a feeling of excitement and hope. It's a fortunate person who finds [that] their work and their faith come together in a single calling.'

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This article was originally published in the July 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Independence Days.

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